May 212015


On this date in 1927, Charles Lindbergh touched down at Le Bourget Field in Paris, completing the world’s first solo nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean AND on this date in 1932 bad weather forced Amelia Earhart to land in a pasture in Derry, Northern Ireland, and she thereby became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. Of course, this was no coincidence; Earhart chose the date of takeoff as a deliberate homage to Lindbergh. All the same, I like it.


Six well-known aviators had already lost their lives in pursuit of the Orteig Prize ($25,000 for the first solo NY to Paris flight), when Lindbergh took off from Roosevelt Field on his successful attempt in the early morning of Friday, May 20, 1927. Burdened by its heavy load of 450 U.S. gallons (1,704 liters) of gasoline weighing about 2,710 lb (1,230 kg), and hampered by a muddy, rain-soaked runway, Lindbergh’s Wright Whirlwind-powered monoplane gained speed very slowly as it made its 7:52 am (07:52) takeoff run, but its J-5C radial engine still proved powerful enough to allow the Spirit to clear the telephone lines at the far end of the field “by about twenty feet [six meters] with a fair reserve of flying speed”. Over the next 33.5 hours, he and the Spirit—which Lindbergh always jointly referred to as “WE”—faced many challenges, including skimming over both storm clouds at 10,000 ft (3,000 m) and wave tops at as low at 10 ft (3.0 m), fighting icing, flying blind through fog for several hours, and navigating only by the stars (whenever visible), and dead reckoning before landing at Le Bourget Airport at 10:22 pm (22:22) on Saturday, May 21. The airfield was not marked on his map and Lindbergh knew only that it was some seven miles northeast of the city. He initially mistook the airfield for some large industrial complex with bright lights spreading out in all directions. The lights were, in fact, the headlights of tens of thousands of cars all driven by eager spectators now caught in “the largest traffic jam in Parisian history.

A crowd estimated at 150,000 spectators stormed the field, dragged Lindbergh out of the cockpit, and literally carried him around above their heads for “nearly half an hour”. While some damage was done to the Spirit (especially to the fine linen, silver-painted fabric covering on the fuselage) by souvenir hunters, both Lindbergh and the Spirit were eventually “rescued” from the mob by a group of French military fliers, soldiers, and police, who took them both to safety in a nearby hangar.


On the morning of May 20, 1932, Earhart set off from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland with a copy of the Telegraph-Journal, given to her by journalist Stuart Trueman, intended to confirm the date of the flight. She intended to fly to Paris in her single engine Lockheed Vega 5B to emulate Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight. Her technical advisor for the flight was famed Norwegian American aviator Bernt Balchen who helped prepare her aircraft. He also played the role of “decoy” for the press as he was ostensibly preparing Earhart’s Vega for his own Arctic flight. After a flight lasting 14 hours, 56 minutes during which she contended with strong northerly winds, icy conditions and mechanical problems, Earhart landed in a pasture at Culmore, north of Derry, Northern Ireland. The landing was witnessed by Cecil King and T. Sawyer. When a farm hand asked, “Have you flown far?” Earhart replied, “From America.” The site is now the home of a small museum, the Amelia Earhart Centre.

Both Lindbergh and Earhart received national and international awards following their flights and were lionized by the public; both wrote autobiographical works that were best sellers; both suffered personal tragedy; and both capitalized on their fame for social causes. But they were very different people, especially in the latter case.


Lindbergh’s main cause in the lead up to U.S. involvement in World War II was to try to persuade the U.S. to stay out of it. His motives are not entirely clear and I think the accusations that he was a closet Nazi are overblown. There is no question, however, that until Pearl Harbor his public statements are heavily tinged with fascist sympathies:

I was deeply concerned that the potentially gigantic power of America, guided by uninformed and impractical idealism, might crusade into Europe to destroy Hitler without realizing that Hitler’s destruction would lay Europe open to the rape, loot and barbarism of Soviet Russia’s forces, causing possibly the fatal wounding of western civilization.

We can have peace and security only so long as we band together to preserve that most priceless possession, our inheritance of European blood, only so long as we guard ourselves against attack by foreign armies and dilution by foreign races.

We must limit to a reasonable amount the Jewish influence … Whenever the Jewish percentage of total population becomes too high, a reaction seems to invariably occur. It is too bad because a few Jews of the right type are, I believe, an asset to any country.

Lindbergh’s personal life leaves a certain amount to be desired also. It was not until almost three decades after Lindbergh’s death in 1974, and two-and-a-half years after his widow’s in 2001, that their children and the public learned that from the late 1950s until his death Lindbergh had maintained three secret families in Europe which included seven out-of-wedlock children born by three different mothers. In late July 2003, one of the largest national daily newspapers in Germany, Munich’s Suddeutsche Zeitung, reported that Lindbergh had fathered three children by German hat maker Brigitte Hesshaimer (1926–2003), who had lived in the small Bavarian town of Geretsried just south of Munich. By the time of the publication of German biographer Rudolf Schröck’s book Das Doppelleben des Charles A. Lindbergh (The Double Life of Charles A. Lindbergh) two years later, however, it had been further revealed that Lindbergh had also fathered four other such children in Germany and Switzerland with two more mistresses. Beginning in March 1957, Lindbergh had established romantic relationships with Brigitte Hesshaimer, her sister, Mariette, a painter living in Grimisuat in the Swiss canton Valais with whom he had two children, and with Valeska, an East Prussian aristocrat who was his private secretary in Europe and lived in Baden-Baden with whom he had two more children, a son born in 1959 and a daughter in 1961. All seven children had been born between 1958 and 1967.


Earhart undertook twin missions after her transatlantic flight along with extensive record setting flying exploits. On January 11, 1935, Earhart became the first person to fly solo from Honolulu, Hawaii to Oakland, California. Although this transoceanic flight had been attempted by many others, most notably by the unfortunate participants in the 1927 Dole Air Race which had reversed the route, her trailblazing flight had been mainly routine, with no mechanical breakdowns. In her final hours, she even relaxed and listened to “the broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera from New York.”

That year, once more flying her faithful Vega which Earhart had tagged “old Bessie, the fire horse,”[N 12] she soloed from Los Angeles to Mexico City on April 19. The next record attempt was a nonstop flight from Mexico City to New York. Setting off on May 8, her flight was uneventful although the large crowds that greeted her at Newark, New Jersey, were a concern as she had to be careful not to taxi into the throng.

Earhart again participated in long-distance air racing, placing fifth in the 1935 Bendix Trophy Race, the best result she could manage considering that her stock Lockheed Vega topping out at 195 mph (314 km/h) was outclassed by purpose-built air racers which reached more than 300 mph (480 km/h). The race had been a particularly difficult one as one competitor, Cecil Allen, died in a fiery takeoff mishap and rival Jacqueline Cochran was forced to retire due to mechanical problems, the “blinding fog”, and violent thunderstorms that plagued the race.

Between 1930 and 1935, Earhart had set seven women’s speed and distance aviation records in a variety of aircraft including the Kinner Airster, Lockheed Vega, and Pitcairn Autogiro. By 1935, recognizing the limitations of her “lovely red Vega” in long, transoceanic flights, Earhart contemplated, in her own words, a new “prize… one flight which I most wanted to attempt – a circumnavigation of the globe as near its waistline as could be.”


Accepting a position as associate editor at Cosmopolitan magazine, she turned this forum into an opportunity to campaign for greater public acceptance of aviation, especially focusing on the role of women entering the field.[63] In 1929, Earhart was among the first aviators to promote commercial air travel through the development of a passenger airline service; along with Charles Lindbergh, she represented Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT) and invested time and money in setting up the first regional shuttle service between New York and Washington, DC. (TAT later became TWA). She was a Vice President of National Airways, which conducted the flying operations of the Boston-Maine Airways and several other airlines in the northeast. By 1940, it had become Northeast Airlines.

Earhart joined the faculty of Purdue University in 1935 as a visiting faculty member to counsel women on careers and as a technical advisor to the Department of Aeronautics. Early in 1936, Earhart started to plan a round-the-world flight. Not the first to circle the globe, it would be the longest at 29,000 miles (47,000 km), following a grueling equatorial route. With financing from Purdue, in July 1936, a Lockheed Electra 10E was built at Lockheed Aircraft Company to her specifications which included extensive modifications to the fuselage to incorporate a large fuel tank. Earhart dubbed the twin engine monoplane airliner her “flying laboratory” and hangared it at Mantz’s United Air Services located just across the airfield from Lockheed’s Burbank, California plant in which it had been built.


Although the Electra was publicized as a “flying laboratory”, little useful science was planned and the flight was arranged around Earhart’s intention to circumnavigate the globe along with gathering raw material and public attention for her next book. Her first choice as navigator was Captain Harry Manning, who had been the captain of the President Roosevelt, the ship that had brought Earhart back from Europe in 1928.

Through contacts in the Los Angeles aviation community, Fred Noonan was subsequently chosen as a second navigator because there were significant additional factors which had to be dealt with while using celestial navigation for aircraft. He had vast experience in both marine (he was a licensed ship’s captain) and flight navigation. Noonan had recently left Pan Am, where he established most of the company’s China Clipper seaplane routes across the Pacific. Noonan had also been responsible for training Pan American’s navigators for the route between San Francisco and Manila. The original plans were for Noonan to navigate from Hawaii to Howland Island, a particularly difficult portion of the flight; then Manning would continue with Earhart to Australia and she would proceed on her own for the remainder of the project.

If anything this doomed effort made Earhart much more famous that she already was, and speculations about what happened at the end continue to make headlines. Where did she crash? Did she crash? Did she survive? All the stuff of sensational journalism and continued interest in a legend. It has often been said that her fame would not be anywhere near as great nowadays had she not disappeared. The public loves a mystery.

What to cook? What to cook? What to cook? Two different people with two different histories. There’s an elegant gin cocktail called “Aviation,” but I’m not a big fan of drink “recipes.” Nor do I want to focus on one or the other by presenting Lindbergh’s or Earhart’s favorite dishes, or some such. So I’ll weasel out by celebrating TWO U.S. heroes with the great U.S. classic: the hamburger. But not just any old hamburger – the bacon blue cheese burger, to my taste buds one of the world’s greatest dishes.

I had my first bacon blue cheese burger when I was a young professor in Purchase, NY, one of the most atrocious sites for a college. It has clusters of multi-million dollar houses, corporate headquarters (including Pepsi across the road), a Quaker meeting house, a library, an overworked Post Office, a deli, and three bar/restaurants. The Hilltop was my dean’s “office east” after hours and the place I first sampled the burger of choice. It was not brilliant – they used blue cheese dressing and indifferent meat. But they introduced me to the great secret: toast the bun. Here’s the basic idea.


©Bacon Blue Cheese Burger

This burger is best made over charcoal.

Crisp 2 strips of bacon and keep warm.

Grill a ¼ lb burger patty, made with freshly ground sirloin, over the coals for about 5 minutes per side, or until it is nicely browned on the outside, but pink and juicy on the inside.

Wrap 2 oz of shredded blue cheese in foil and place it on the grill to melt. Use the best cheese you can find such as Stilton or Roquefort. Toast the bun at the same time.

Assemble the burger by putting the patty on the bottom half of the bun, then add the cheese, then the bacon cut to fit, then the top of the bun.